Planning for Healthy Communities

“The way we design and build our communities can affect our physical and mental health. Healthy community design integrates evidence-based health strategies into community planning, transportation and land-use decisions.”
-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-

Built environments are “the human-created surroundings that provide the setting for human activities, ranging from large-scale civic districts, commercial and industrial buildings, to neighborhoods and individual homes” (Puget Sound Regional Council, Vision 2040).

Improving built environments is core to Health Department’s vision Healthy People in Healthy Communities. Healthy communities are healthy and sustainable places built on a balanced foundation of people, prosperity and planet. The integration of these three foundational elements generates a livable natural and built environment, a viable economic development and an equitable social environment. The World Health Organization defines a healthy community as “a community, or place, that is continually creating and improving the physical and social environments, and expanding community resources that enable people to mutually support each other in performing all of the functions of life and in developing their maximum potential.”

Healthy community design can improve people’s health by:
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Increasing safety and reducing injury
  • Increasing access to healthy food
  • Improving land, air and water quality
  • Strengthening the social fabric of a community and improving overall quality of life
  • Providing fair access to livelihood, education, services and resources

Check out the following videos from the American Planning Association WA Chapter and Dean Howard Frumkin (DO, DEOHS) of the University of Washington regarding healthy community planning, and the importance of the built environment to public health.

What does the built environment mean to us?

Why does place matter?

How do zip codes determine our health?

The Health Department Built Environment Program
The Department’s Built Environment Program is committed to promoting healthy human habitat and livable communities, by helping local jurisdictions to incorporate human health and healthy community considerations in planning documents, and sharing evidence-based health research and other information.

Vision: Smart and sustainable built environments promoting healthy communities.

Mission: Partnering with policy makers, planners and community members to build sustainable and healthy communities.

The Health Department will ensure communities are healthy and sustainable by:

  • Encouraging land-use and transportation planning decisions based on a balanced triple-bottom-line approach: people, prosperity and planet.
  • Engaging affected communities to help influence the shaping of their communities.
  • Addressing health disparities among diverse populations .
  • Mitigating public health risks.

Program Contact
Built Environment Program Staff Amy Pow will reach out to planning staff of local jurisdictions to customize partnership approaches to comprehensive planning sensitive to the unique circumstances of each community. If you wish to find out more about how the Health Department can assist your jurisdiction in the comprehensive plan update visioning process or how to use the Healthy Community Planning Toolbox, contact Amy Pow, Principal Planner, at or call (253) 576-6222.

Toolbox and Resources for Local Planners
To integrate health into local jurisdictions’ periodic Comprehensive Plan Updates, check out the Healthy Community Planning Toolbox.

Healthy Communities Award

This annual award program recognizes local jurisdictions who have made special efforts to influence the health of their communities. Healthy Communities Awardees will be honored at each year's Pierce County Regional Council General Assembly. See 2016 award recipients and see details for how to apply for the 2017 award at Healthy Communities Award.

Additional Resources

24 Local Community Profiles
Community profiles containing demographics and health data by each local jurisdiction to inform public outreach and policy development around health priorities.
Pierce County:
Unincorporated Urban Pierce County

Metro City:


Core Cities:

Large Cities:
University Place

Smaller Cities (Inside the Contiguous CGA):
Bonney Lake
Gig Harbor

Smaller Cities/Towns (Free Standing):
South Prairie

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